Personal Background: As a youngster, I was a fan of all things Star Trek, mostly due to my parent's influence, partly due to the fact that I loved science fiction stuff, even then. I had watched the earlier Treks at a young age (even if ST II was scary to me). However, even as a kid, I did not really care for this one, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I saw this one in the theater as a kid, but it just didn't make the impression on my that the others had. Granted, I loved looking at the whales and I laughed at the funny stuff. But it didn't take hold of my childhood imagination the way that the other Star Trek movies and episodes did. Even now though, as an adult, I can't say its one of my favorites. Indeed, watching it recently left me torn- the actors do a spot on job, but the movie overall just doesn't grab me the way the previous entries did.
Basic Plot: Taking place after the events of the previous movie, ST IV: The Voyage Home finds Kirk and crew still on Vulcan. They are planning on going back to Earth and facing the consequences for their theft of the Enterprise. Meanwhile, Spock is recovering from his life and death experience and is trying to reconcile his Vulcan and human sides (which he had seemingly accomplished by ST II, but his recent trauma has impacted that delicate balance).
As Kirk and crew begin to journey back to Earth, a mysterious and alien probe appears, draining all energy sources in its path as it sends a signal to Earth. Once it arrives, it strengthens it's signal and is directing it on Earth's oceans. The signal is so strong, that it drains all of Earth's power sources and wreaks environmental havoc. As Kirk and crew approach, they pick up the signal, and Spock deduces that the probe is searching for humpback whales- which are extinct in the 23rd century. In order to save Earth, Kirk decides to take his crew and his stolen Klingon ship (thank God for the cloaking device) back in time to the 20th century in order to locate whales and then bring them back to the 23rd century and, in the words of McCoy "tell this probe what to do with itself".
|This is pretty funny, actually.|
Themes/Concepts: The theme here, of course, is "Save the Environment". You see that once Spock realizes that the probe's signal is really whale song. From then on, the movie focuses squarely on that theme. In fact, at points, it seems to bludgeon you over the head with it. There's no subtext or subtlety here. This, in fact, is one of the most disappointing aspects of this movie. Each of the previous movies were about "something", but there were layers to those themes. With TMP it was "can machines come alive?" and "what role does humanity have in the universe?"- heady sci-fi concepts. With TWOK it was the nature of the "cycle of life and death", accepting your lot in life, and how hatred and vengence corrupts everything.Even TSFS had some themes, such as the possibility of rebirth, humanity doesn't have the power to play God. With TVH- we must save the environment. That's it. End of message.
|A "Fish Out of Water" story.|
|Surely he knew what he was getting into...|
|Funny- but not logical|
|Another "colorful metaphor" is about to happen.|
|The best special effect in the whole movie.|
Musical Score: This is a tough category. The music in this movie, by Leonard Rosenman, is perfectly serviceable. It is appropriately lighthearted and bouncy, particularly the "Chekhov's Run" theme and when the crew first get to San Francisco. Unfortunately, we've had incredible and memorable scores from Goldsmith and Horner in the previous movies. These scores were epic in nature, grandiose in many ways (Goldsmith, in particular- he elevated the occasionally dull proceedings in TMP into something special with his majestic and otherworldly score). Again, Rosenman's score is just fine, though it isn't particularly memorable either.
|It's as if nothing happened... the ship doesn't even look different!|
Of course, TVH has the reputation of being both "the moneymaker" and "the funny one". Indeed, TVH got a very large audience, due to the "contemporary" setting, the light humor, and the simple environmental message. When this Trek is brought up, non-Trekers know it as "Ah. The whale one". So yes, TVH did indeed make Trek more accessible to non-fans. However, what is more interesting, is that no subsequent Trek movie tried to go this route. All have had some humor, but none have ever gone balls out comedy like this one. Indeed, this is the other thing that bugs me about TVH and Nimoy's direction- this movie ALMOST jumps the shark. This one struts the line of self-parody and self-mocking. I can't believe that's what Nimoy intended, and yet, that's how it is throughout- the humor is a bit TOO much, threatening to make it into a total joke. Now, it doesn't cross the line into that, but it comes so incredibly close. Notice how no Trek movie ever again tries to go that far into comedy...
At any rate, the most telling thing for me is that I'd watch ANY of the original Trek movies BEFORE this one. Yes, even the infamous Star Trek V, flaws and all. It isn't about the humor. Some of the best episodes of Trek on TV are funny. Tribbles has a strong spotlight on Federation/Klingon politics, I, Mudd shows how robots would deal with a corrupted humanity by "taking care of them" in a paternalistic way, and A Piece of the Action, while absurd, shows an extreme example of why the Prime Directive is necessary. They mixed humor with strong and unique ideas. This movie however is almost too self-parodying for me in the humor department, and the theme of environmentalism is layered on so damn thick that it just beats you over the head. No grace. No subtlety. No truly grand sci-fi ideas. Even ST III had some of those things. Yes, the actors all do a wonderful job with it. They truly ARE these characters now, and could play them with conviction no matter what the script calls for. I suspect that if they had dialed down the humor just a little, this movie could still have been funny without becoming a joke itself. Unfortunately, that is what this movie so nearly becomes, and I can't help but wonder how Nimoy, of all people, could have let it go down this path.
As a result, I give this 2 Marks of Chaos out of 4. The actors acquit themselves well, but this movie has too many problems to score higher for me.
Until next time...